“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, NIV).
How Kids Think
Children wonder, “What difference does obeying God make?” Some kids are discouraged about trying to please God. They have lost interest in spiritual matters and are not motivated to be involved. Instead, they focus on their own interests and let the world guide them. Without encouragement, reminders, and continual opportunities that help focus their hearts towards God, children live for themselves.
Throughout the Bible, God uses a variety of cause-effect techniques to motivate His people. Some are positive and some are punitive; some are eternal and some are earthly. Sometimes children need to be reminded that every human being will someday meet their Creator face-to-face—and give an account to Him.
Maturity Affects Motivation
What motivates a child changes as he/she grows. Early on in faith, children may be motivated by fear of consequences, desire to please their leaders, or love for God. As kids grow, their motivation to follow God needs to move from external incentives (to please parents, teachers and receive a reward) to internal motivation (to please and honor the Lord). Christian teachers can guide children to be compelled by conviction of faith and a deep love for God—instead of fear of punishment or people pleasing. During this process, adults have a unique opportunity to help children keep maturing in their walk of faith!
Personality Affects Motivation
When kids are encouraged to get to know about God and have a relationship with Him, they respond to different stimuli. Based on personality, learning style, and talents, each child engages God differently. What encourages and drives children to engage God and learn about Him is a matter of what they love and value, as well as their maturity in faith. These scenarios probably describe many of the kids in your class:
Do you have any natural leaders who tend to take charge, think practically, solve problems, and exhibit a strong will? The key to motivating these students will be helping them focus on God’s will instead of their own. Placing high goals, dialoguing and reasoning with them, celebrating accomplishments, and giving them practical opportunities to take action will help this personality stay engaged in the faith.
Are some of your students highly sympathetic, detail oriented, who love order? The naturally high-standards of these children will bend them towards social justice issues, obeying rules, and a love for reflection. Help kids with this personality stay engaged in their faith by encouraging their prayer life and reflection, giving them reading assignments, and providing worship music to listen to.
Do you have children who love fun, people, and being generous? They often get excited about a subject and tell all their friends about it—but they also probably struggle with being diligent. These social students love the group aspects of their faith. Motivate them by providing social environments that draw them in—learning situations that promote genuine faith. You may also want to create tactile and sensory faith experiences to help them learn.
Do some of your students show respect, like to help out, and enjoy cooperating with others? They love to learn via conversation and are usually patient and forgiving. Help motivate and engage these peacemakers by giving them small leadership roles and one-on-one coaching opportunities with younger children. Encourage them to journal, dialogue about God, and offer them opportunities to serve others.
5 Key Motivation Tips
Adapt these ideas to motivate your children to wholeheartedly engage their faith.
1. God is Worthy
Find ways to lift kids’ eyes from self to God. Remind children often that life centers on God—not on them.
2. God is Real
Help kids realize that God is real. When children see God as real, mighty, and eternal; their motivation becomes more intrinsic. When they fear the Lord and understand that what they do matters, they respond to God Himself—not just a flat idea on a piece of paper.
3. God loves Obedience
Establish an appropriate system of rewards and penalties. Encourage and reinforce attitudes and behaviors that honor God. Children need reminders to do the right thing and follow God—whether or not they feel like it. They learn to obey because God is truth, and He asks them to follow His ways. As kids grow to respect God, their skill of obedience grows.
4. Model Authentic Faith
Show how faith relates to life. Model how you stay close to God in good times and during hard times. When children observe your loyalty to God as guide, Father, Counselor, and Teacher—in a variety of situations—you model genuine faith!
5. Encourage and Cheer Kids On
Kids need constant reminders to keep going. Just as runners respond when the crowd cheers them on, children thrive when others around them affirm their spiritual growth. Celebrate, champion, and encourage!
Discipleship Begins With Our Children
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Temperament research adapted from “Dancing with Porcupines” by Bob Phillips and “The Temperament God Gave your Kids” by Art & Laraine Bennett.